This open letter is being addressed to Lewis & Clark County Health Officer, Drenda Niemann, and the Lewis & Clark County Prosecutor, Leo Gallagher. As the officials in your county who can instigate the prosecution and criminal citation of Governor Steve Bullock for a willful violation of his own mask directive, it is incumbent upon you to demonstrate that justice is blind.
On July 15, 2020, Governor Bullock issued a directive requiring the use of face masks in public spaces for any county with more than 4 active cases of COVID-19. The Governor’s Office said at the time, “Governor Bullock issued the directive to require businesses, government offices and other indoor spaces open to the public to ensure that employees, contractors, volunteers, customers, and other members of the public wear a face mask that covers their mouth and nose while remaining inside these spaces.”
Bullock said during his press conference announcing his mandate, “I thank all of those who take seriously their personal responsibility and their role in stopping COVID-19. But we need even more Montanans, and the visitors who come here, to mask up.”
For your convenience, Bullock’s mandate can be found via pdf here.
Indeed, due to Bullock’s mask order, Montanans have even been incarcerated for refusing to follow his directive. Missoula Judge John Larson, substituting in the absence of the local judge, tossed a Great Falls man into jail for disobeying Bullock’s mask directive. In addition, countless citizens have been harassed, denied service, and mistreated due to their unwillingness to mask-up in public.
However, as has been reported in the media, Bullock recently attended a ballgame – which had more than 50 people in attendance – and is seen in a photograph without his mask anywhere in sight and within six feet of at least three non-family members who were in attendance at the game. This is in clear violation of his directive.
As the Lewis and Clark Health Officer, Drenda Niemann, you promised to personally see to it that organizers of the Freedom Concert would face criminal charges for disobeying Bullock’s mask mandate. As the health officer, Ms. Niemann, you are tasked under Montana Code 50-2.104 to have oversight over pandemic response. Furthermore, Montana Code 50-2-124 says that the Health Officer can compel local law enforcement to enforce their directives under the penalty of a misdemeanor. Additionally, Governor Bullock reiterated the role of Health Officer in his original emergency order and it is their job to enforce his policy.
Furthermore, the County Attorney is tasked with prosecuting violations of Bullock’s emergency declarations. In addition to the regulations above, Montana Code Code 50-2.104 also says that county attorneys are to advise health boards, upon which the County Health Officer serves. It is their job to officially charge someone for violating the orders of Governor Bullock or the local health board. But if this seems like a daunting task, Governor Bullock only three days ago promised to give Lewis & Clark County additional financial resources to aggressively prosecute violators of his mask mandate.
Of the partnership between Bullock, health officers, and county attorneys, the governor said, “I think we can only be successful in beating this virus if we all work together as a team. And our local public health officers certainly need all of us to be on a team right now. Now more than ever, we need to roll up our sleeves, get our hands around this virus.”
Leo Gallagher, you should know that your office has been promised the resources necessary – by Governor Bullock himself – to prosecute those who don’t wear a mask in public. And that, the photographic evidence shows, includes Governor Bullock.
Ms. Niemann and Mr. Gallagher, it is your job to enforce the governor’s orders. We would humbly ask that you do exactly as he has tasked you, which is to aggressively prosecute those who have violated his mask directive. And that should start with Governor Bullock himself.
Ms. Niemann, you have been accused in recent days of politicizing your COVID-19 response against the conservative-led Freedom Concert. This would be a good way to prove that – as you said two days ago – your response is “not political.” Prove it. Ask the Lewis & Clark sheriff to cite and ask the Lewis & Clark prosecutor to prosecute Steve Bullock for violating Steve Bullock’s own orders.
Mr. Gallagher, you have a job as well. Please prove that you are unbiased in your job as criminal prosecutor and will follow through on Bullock’s request for prosecutorial participation in his coronavirus response.
Or, Ms. Niemann and Mr. Gallagher – if you prefer – explain to Governor Bullock that the only way he will not be charged for flagrantly violating his own order is if he immediately rescinds it. This would be the best route for all of Montana. And if you do not choose to follow one of these paths, please rest assured that long after we have forgotten about the “seriousness” of COVID-19 we will not forget the betrayal of your professional responsibilities as well as the rights of all your neighbors.
– Jordan Hall, Gideon Knox Group